Among the many people jumping into Santa Barbara County’s burgeoning cannabis industry is former lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado, who for a while was mentioned as a strong contender to be appointed secretary of agriculture by President Donald Trump. Maldonado confirmed that he is leasing four acres of Santa Maria farmland to a medical marijuana cultivation operation licensed by the State of California. Before embarking on a successful political career as a moderate Republican — he started as the mayor of Santa Maria in 1996, served 12 years in the State Legislature, and was appointed lieutenant governor by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010 — Maldonado was part of a large family agricultural operation in North County.
Maldonado said he’s leasing the land to a veteran from the Gulf War who is represented by Maldonado’s former chief of staff and campaign manager Brandon Gesicki. It is Gesicki’s name on the state and county documents, and like many political consultants, Gesicki has jumped into the cannabis industry feet first and represents many clients throughout Santa Barbara County.
County administrators estimate cannabis is currently a $200-million-a-year crop, putting it behind strawberries and substantially ahead of broccoli, both of which Maldonado also happens to grow. Maldonado conceded that as a Republican, his position on cannabis has changed considerably. “Let’s just say that my thinking has evolved,” he said. “For many years I did the Republican Party two-step where cannabis was concerned.” Maldonado said he has no quarrel with Trump’s position on legalized marijuana but said he disagrees strongly with Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has been outspoken in denouncing pot, legal or otherwise. Maldonado said he’s been impressed by the medical benefits and pain relief he’s seen that cannabis can offer and expressed optimism that his anecdotal understanding would be borne if systematic research and development were allowed to take place.
As far as ever using marijuana himself, Maldonado was emphatic. “Never,” he stated. “I grow broccoli, too, but I don’t eat that either.”